Saturday, April 11, 2015

Norah Burke

Norah Burke has been on my radar for many times over the year. I think I first noted her name as a writer for Gerald G. Swan. Some years later, Cliff Lewis mentioned her in connection with his publishing company Curzon, which published romances—some reprinted from serials in women's magazines—under rather more saucy titles for the original paperback market. Ever since her name has popped up in various contexts... as a writer for Look and Learn, for instance, and more recently with a story in The Children's Newspaper. Back in the summer of 2008, I thought it was time to gather together everything I knew.

The post, published on 13 August 2008, has been one of the most viewed on Bear Alley, with over 14,550 visitors to that particular posting, according to Blogger, although the post was already almost two years old before Blogger started counting in July 2010. A few days ago, on 7 April, the post was lifted almost wholesale and posted on Wikipedia. During the day, various revisions added a credit (to someone called Srinidhi) and removed the link to the original post.

I received some very interesting comments about the original post, especially from India where Norah Burke's Jungle Picture was on the grade 10 Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) exams.

According to poet Rupa Abdi, "Norah Burke is the reason why I am a writer today. We had her book as a part of our English Literature curriculm in my Delhi School, in std.9th. I was barely 13 years old then and was fascinated with the world of Norah's words, what a skillful magician of words, who could draw the entire multifaceted canvas of the Indian jungle life with such few, such simple words... I would wonder in awe. In fact that was when I wrote my first short story and poem... my love affair with the world of words never ended since... I am fifty now, and still have my 47-year-old copy of Jungle Picture with me."

Her words were echoed by many others. Chandrika said, "Most of us who did ICSE in India in the late '70s were introduced to this truly illustrious English writer, thanks to some intelligent people on the board who chose the book for our study. Given the tripe that are now chosen for study even in degree courses one is indeed blessed to have read this classic book ... which is a richly descriptive book written in flawless English." Justin Rayne: "I had Jungle Picture for my 8th Std. ICSE class. The impact this collection of stories has had with me, has remained all these years. In fact I'm still looking for a copy (how we foolishly discard such treasures). Her simple yet masterly story-weaving ability had me see 'Gajpati' tied to the tree, and the young lad who carried his brother across the jungle, while he suffered with high fever... absolutely enchanting and riveting!"

Other commentators added their own praise for Norah Burke's work, which seems to have had a lasting impact on many youngsters who have grown to adulthood and passed on their fond memories of her stories to their children.

Norah Aileen Burke was born in Bedford on 2 August 1907, her parents—who had lived in India for many years—returning especially for her birth. The family returned to India when the baby Norah was only two months old, and she spent the next twelve years travelling around the jungle at the foothills of the Himalayas where her father, Redmond St. George Burke, was a forest officer with the Imperial Forest Service. Her mother was Aileen Marion Burke, the daughter of John Mervyn Wrench, the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, and she had two younger brothers, Harry (1909-1942) and Peter (1917- )

Constantly changing camps, carrying their belongings by elephant, made education difficult, but she learned to write at the age of eight, and started writing stories straight away. She also read as much as she could, including bound volumes of Chums and Boy’s Own Paper, and even wrote and edited her own little magazine entitled The Monthly Dorrit.

She returned to England in 1919 to attend a school in Devonshire, and lived her family home at The Auberies, Bulmer, near Sudbury, in Suffolk. Her first novel, Dark Road, was published in 1933, Burke drawing on her own background for the book's settings of Suffolk and India. After a second novel dealing with a European dictator (The Scarlet Vampire), she wrote Merry England, which was set in historical Suffolk.

Her next few novels, romances, appeared from Gerald Swan during the war and post-war years and, according to an article published in The Writer in January 1950, she had by then published 11 novels and her short stories and articles had appeared in more than 100 periodicals, including 20-Story Magazine, The Novel Magazine, and various Gerald Swan publications. Her work was published in France, Denmark, Holland, Sweden, Irish Free State, Australia, America, Canada and many of the better British magazines, including Everybody's and Courier. In 1954, she was the winner of the New York Herald Tribune World Short Story Contest.

As well as fiction, Norah Burke was also an enthusiastic travel writer, relating many of her early adventures in autobiographical travel books Jungle Child (1956), Tiger Country (1965) and Eleven Leopards (1965). She also wrote about wildlife in King Todd (1963) and The Midnight Forest (1966) and numerous short stories. She collaborated with her father on his book of big game hunting and camp life in the Indian jungles, Jungle Days (1935).

She married Henry Humphrey R. Methwold Walrond (1904-1987), a lawyer, on 25 July 1931. She lived for many years at Thorne Court., in Cockfield, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. She died in 1976, survived by her husband and two sons, Timothy John Walrond and Humphrey Bill Walrond.


Dark Road. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1933.
Merry England. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1934.
The Scarlet Vampire. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1936.
Dreams Come True. London, Gerald Swan, Feb 1943.
The Awakened Heart. London, Gerald Swan, Mar 1944.
Gold Temple Bells. London, Gerald Swan, Nov 1949.
Hazelwood. London, Hodder & Stoughton, Jul 1953; as The Splendour Falls, New York, Morrow, 1953.
Not as Others. London, [publisher?], 1956. [Listed by Trinity College, Dublin as a printed book]

Novels as Andre Lamour
Harem Captive. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Dec 1946.
Desert Passion. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Nov 1947.
Dusky Bridegroom. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Dec 1947.
No Wedding Ring. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Feb 1948.
Pin-Up for Michael. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Aug 1948.
Take My Love!. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Sep 1948.

Novels as Paul Lestrange
Slave to Passion. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Aug 1948.
Tarnished Angel. Stone, Staffordshire, Curzon, Sep 1948.

Collections Jungle Picture. A picture of the vast forests of India, along with the foot-hills of the Himalayas in short stories. London, Cassell, 1960.

Jungle Days, with R. St. George Burke. London, Stanley Paul & Co., 1935.
Jungle Child (autobiography). London, Cassell & Co., Feb 1956; New York, W. W. Norton, 1956; abridged, London, Cassell (Red Lion Readers 2), 1966.
King Todd. The true story of a wild badger, illus. D. J. Watkins-Pitchford. London, Putnam, 1963.
Tiger Country. London, Putnam, 1965.
Eleven Leopards. A journey through the jungles of Ceylon. London, Jarrolds, 1965.
The Midnight Forest. A true story of wild animals. London, Jarrolds, 1966.


Parables of the Gospel [Homiliae], by Saint Gregory, translated by Nora Burke. Dublin, Scepter, 1960.
The Faith Applied [Vivre le christianisme], by Jean Daujat, translated by Norah Burke. Dublin, Scepter, 1963.

(* The Children's Newspaper © Look and Learn Magazine Ltd.)

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